November 21, 2003

Laurence Tisch, Supporter of Education, Cornell, Dies at 80

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Philanthropist and financier Laurence A. Tisch, a major supporter of higher education, died Saturday of complications due to gastric cancer at the age of 80. Tisch is the father of two of Cornell’s most prominent alumni, trustee Andrew Tisch ’71 and James Tisch ’75.

Tisch, known to friends as Larry, was the co-founder and co-chair of Loews Corp. and the chair of the board and CEO of CBS from 1986 to November 1995. However, it is Tisch’s philanthropic objectives and support of higher education that will perhaps be best remembered by Cornell.

“He believed universities needed to be great institutions, well-funded [and] that they were the moral compass for the community,” Andrew Tisch said. “He was committed to higher education.”

Tisch’s commitment can be seen through the support that his family has shown to Cornell. In addition to Andrew Tisch’s position on the Board of Trustees, the family has donated enough money to build the Loews Lobby of the Statler Hotel. Tisch’s sons have also endowed a professorship, the Andrew H. and James S. Tisch Distinguished University Professor, currently held by Walter F. LaFeber, history.

“[Tisch] loved Cornell. He loved it because both [James] and I had gone there and had great experiences,” Andrew Tisch said. “He was very positive about it. The several times he was up there, he loved the area and enjoyed visiting it. Over the years, he developed an amazing respect for the leadership of the University, whether it was [Presidents] Frank [H.T.] Rhodes, Hunter [R.] Rawlings [III] — he met [President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77] a few times. He had a very positive feeling for Cornell through [James’s] and my admiration for people like [LaFeber]. He believed in the scholarship at Cornell and the level of quality in teaching. If you look at what we did at Cornell [such as the endowed professorship], it really is designed to foster great undergraduate teaching.”

The family’s generosity toward Cornell has also been extremely appreciated by the University.

“How people are brought up tends to influence what they treasure later on,” said Inge T. Reichenbach, vice president for alumni affairs and development. “Certainly the Tisch family is an incredibly generous philanthropic family and has provided very distinguished public service. I believe that influenced Andrew and James in their personal lives to be philanthropic and committed to public service.”

“We’ve always believed that the institutions that have been important to us in any point in time deserve our support. Cornell was important to my brother and me. … I think it’s very important when people can support the institutions that helped them,” Andrew said.

In addition to supporting higher education at Cornell, Tisch served as chair of the board of his own alma mater, New York University, from 1978 to 1998. NYU credits Tisch with “leading NYU through its transformation from a regional school into a world-class research institution. During his distinguished tenure as chair of the board, the university embraced the greatest growth and development since its founding in 1831,” said Martin Lipton, current chair of the board of NYU, at Tisch’s memorial service.

Along with his brother Preston Robert, Tisch gained control of the Loews theater chain in 1959. Together they turned Loews from a movie-house chain into a diversified company that today includes subsidiaries CNA Financial Corp., Lorillard Inc., Bulova Corp., Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc., Loews Hotels and Texas Gas Transmission Corp. The Loews theaters were sold in 1985.

Not only was Tisch a major supporter of higher education, but he was also philanthropic toward a host of other organizations, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, NYU Medical Center and the Wildlife Conservation Society. He was also a former president of United Jewish Appeal of New York, an umbrella organization of Jewish charities.

“My father’s legacy was that he did not view success as the destination. Success was a way to get to a bigger goal than that. Once you are successful by community standards, you won’t necessarily be happy. There was something beyond monetary success that made his life so enriching. Without monetary success, he would have been just as happy because he did not view monetary success as the end-all,” Andrew said.

Tisch is survived by his wife Wilma, his brother, his four sons Andrew, James, Tom and Dan, and his 15 grandchildren.

Archived article by Erica Temel